Control of the Senate came down to two January Senate runoff races in Georgia that resulted in historic Democratic victories for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff who ousted two incumbent Republican senators. With an even split of senators, majority control goes to the party of the vice president, who under the Constitution acts as the president of the Senate. As vice president, Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote on measures if, and only if, the chamber is deadlocked.
Are Democrats in control of the Senate at this point?
Technically, yes, but they still have to work out some logistics. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., became majority leader, but he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are working out an agreement over the rules that will guide Senate operations, such as how many members of each party will be on each committee. Until the final organizing resolution passes, Republicans retain control over Senate committees.
The two party leaders had been in a stalemate over the agreement; the filibuster, a tactic used to block legislation, has been a key sticking point. McConnell was seeking reassurance that Democrats will keep the filibuster, before he would agree to the rules needed for the new Senate.
Unless lawmakers unanimously agree to send measures directly to a final vote, most are subject to filibuster, which means they can be indefinitely delayed by debate until at least 60 members vote to end it. Without those 60 senators, the measure cannot move to a final vote, which generally requires a simple majority. Altering the filibuster, which McConnell fears, could give Democrats almost unchecked ability to pass their agenda in both chambers without any Republican support.
On Monday, McConnell backed away from his demand after Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., affirmed their opposition to eliminating the procedure, leaving Democrats without the numbers to move forward with such a measure.
The final power-sharing agreement has not yet been reached, but is expected to resemble a 2001 resolution reached when the Senate last had an even split. Democratic and Republican senators are expected to have equal representation on the chamber’s committees and any tie votes on nominees and legislation will go before the full Senate.